Header image: singer Loré Lixenberg with Cleo, a Mesmer robot created by Engineered Arts. Still from Robo_Op, 29 June 2021, video documentation by Catalina Balan.
Click HERE to watch a short documentary about the project.
Click HERE to watch an interview of me talking about the robot opera project.
Robot Opera Talk in Spring Festival, Utrecht, 23 May 2023
This spring I gave a talk entitled ‘O, I am not bot, not bot I: who is singing, if a robot sings?’ as part of the Spring Academy at Utrecht University organised by Maaike Bleeker within her Acting Like a Robot research project. The talk explored issues of robot voice and embodiment, sharing experience of working with robots in three Robot Opera projects which I led at the Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre at the University of Sussex.
20 June 2022, Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, 6pm, première of my new piece What Larks for mezzo soprano, flute, clarinet, electric guitar, cello, piano, and recorded sounds. This was part of the South Downs Songbook, a project devised and run by Ed Hughes, Liz Webb and the Orchestra of Sound and Light, comprising new commissions inspired by the landscape and art of the South Downs, combined with an education tour fostering creativity in young composers. Here recordings of the works here and find out more about the project’s digital resources here.
20th May 2022, 20:30h, KM28, Karl Marx Strasse 28, Berlin
13 April 2022, 18:00 Cité des Arts Open Studios, Paris
After our world première in Paris on 13th April at the Cité des Arts Open Studios, I’m pleased to announce another performance for Concrete Sun, a trio comprising Myra Melford (inside piano and electronics) Heather Frasch (amplified objects and electronics)and myself (laptop and found sounds).
The Empress’s Feet revisited
I am delighted to report that scholar and opera director Michal Grover-Friedlander has just published a new book Staging Voice (Routledge, 2022) which features an extensive section on her staging of The Empress’s Feet, a mono drama for solo voice which I wrote in 1995 with librettist Valerie Whittington. Michal did a very innovative production of this piece in 2014 with her company Ta Opera Zuta.
25th November, 2021, 1pm saw the concert premiere of Submerged for solo Cello at the Royal Academy of Music, part of the Academy 200 Project (200 new solo works in celebration of their bicentennial). I was very pleased to work with Academy cellist Samuel Vincent on this project. The piece was recorded and will be available on the Academy website.
14th November, 2021, 17:00 Espace Découverte Luxembourg. Concert premiere of strange birds, a ten minute acousmatic piece commissioned by the Rainy Days Festival in Luxembourg. This piece is an exploration of hybrid sonic identities made from human, flute, bird and electronic sounds, constructed through improvisation and electronic interventions.
4th November, 2021, 12 noon, I took part, with Tim Hopkins, Janine Fletcher and Elizabeth Jochum in a panel presentation and discussion on Robot Opera at Brighton Digital Festival, hosted by South East Dance.
28 October, 2021, I gave a presentation, with Tim Hopkins, at the Opera and AI conference in Barcelona hosted by the Opera de Butxaca & Novo Creacio. We talked about our recent co-devised work-in-progress opera, Robo_Op (see below), featuring a Cleo robot manufactured by Engineered Arts.
Cleo, a Mesmer robot created by Engineered Arts, still from Robo_Op, 29 June 2021, video documentation by Catalina Balan.
In June I continued work on the Robot Opera research project which I run for the Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre (CROMT) We devised a two day event, supported by the Sussex Humanities Lab (SHL), with funds from the School of Media, Arts and Humanities Knowledge Exchange at the University of Sussex. This is the third in a series of robot opera projects, and it explored hybridity and otherness through creative engagement with embodied AI. You can read more about the robot opera research project HERE and HERE
There were two performance events, one on poetry and one on opera, each followed by a reflective panel discussion. These events were hybrid in SHL / on Zoom (performers in person, audience / panels on Zoom).
Cleo, a Mesmer robot created by Engineered Arts, from Robo_Po, 28 June 2021, stills from video documentation by Catalina Balan.
28th June 4pm – 5:30pm (UK Time) Sussex Humanities Lab, audience joined on Zoom
A robot poetry reading followed by panel discussion. What does poetry mean from the mouth of a robot? What is explored through generative poetry? What is a reading? This event was instigated by Evelyn Ficarra and curated by Carol Watts and Kat Sinclair. Poets included, Kat Sinclair, Carol Watts, and many others. Panel included Charlotte Geater, Andrea Haslanger, Kat Sinclair and Jo Lindsay Walton. Chaired by Carol Watts.
Cleo, a Mesmer robot created by Engineered Arts, with singer Loré Lixenberg, Robo_Op, 29 June 2021, stills from video documentation by Catalina Balan.
29th June 4pm – 5:30pm (UK Time) Sussex Humanities Lab, audience joined on Zoom
A robot opera work-in-progress performance, exploring human / robot interaction through music, movement and scenography, followed by a panel discussion.
Creative Team: Tim Hopkins (director); Evelyn Ficarra (composer); Janine Fletcher (choreographer / dancer); Carol Watts (words); Kat Sinclair (words); Loré Lixenberg (singer); Anton Lukoszevieze (cellist); Mike Oddhayward (programmer); Cleo Mesmer (Robot).
Will Jackson (robot designer / CEO of Engineered Arts);
Elizabeth Jochum (Associate Professor of art and robotics, Head of Research Laboratory for Art and Technology (RELATE) Aalborg University, Denmark);
Cath James (Artistic Director, South East Dance);
Annette Mees (Director of Audience Labs, Royal Opera House);
Ron Chrisley (Reader in Philosophy, Informatics, University of Sussex); chaired by Nick Till (Professor of Opera and Music Theatre, Director of the Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre).
Click here for an interview recorded by documentarist Catalina Balan, in which I give an overview of the Robot Opera Project.
Colour Meditation 2021-02-15. “cello (in) pieces”
Submerged, for Solo Cello
The Royal Academy of Music is celebrating its 200th anniversary by inviting 200 composers to write a solo piece for the instrument of their choice. These pieces are being programmed in concerts at the Academy throughout 2021-22, and I have been really pleased to collaborate with Academy cellist Sam Vincent. Sam and I met several times on Zoom during lockdown of 2021, exploring sounds and ideas. The resulting piece grew from an improvisation originally prompted by one of my ‘colour meditations’ (see below). Though the initial drawing seemed to evoke ideas around shipwreck and storm, Sam’s initial improvised response expanded this into more reflective territory. Some of the sounds he created evoked, to me, Ideas of being under water, of looking up at the light filtering through. In turn this image shifted into other ideas around the submerged, including the noise based liminal sounds that exist in even the purest cello tone.
Colour Meditation 2020-11-26. “drowned”
In 2020 I turned inwards, as many did, having the luxury, as many did not, of a job that supported me throughout the pandemic. I was on research leave from my teaching at Sussex during Spring term, so I experienced the first lockdown in Berkeley California. I spent many solitary hours improvising on my flute in an attic studio and working with sounds recorded on my walks. This work centred around a series of ‘colour meditations’, a name I have for the drawing practice which I started in response to the death of my mother in April 2020. Some of the colour meditations look like scores and I use them as prompts for sonic reflections.
In April 2020 I received a commission for a new acousmatic piece to be premiered in a Rainy Days Festival in Luxembourg in November 2021 (postponed from 2020). The improvisations and found sounds from the period in the attic during lockdown have fed directly into this new piece which explores a hybridity of human, flute, electronic and natural bird sounds: strange birds.
In June, 2019, I worked on a small scale robot opera featuring a Pepper Robot. This project was supported by the Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre, the Sussex Humanities Lab and the Sussex Research Opportunities Fund. Singer Loré Lixenberg and cellist Anton Lukoszevieze joined me in explorations around human / robot interaction in a creative setting. Performance and discussion. Click here for details. This project continues themes of vocality, embodiment and performance with robots which I started exploring in 2017 with my five minute operatic miniature O, One for two Nao robots.
In May 2019, Listening Creates an Opening received three more performances, this time at ODC in San Francisco. Originally commissioned by the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, this work, conceived and directed by Mary Armentrout, featured a sound score plus music for two singers and cello, including settings of poems by Emily Dickinson, with video and light sculpture by Ian Winters.
At the beginning of 2019, I collaborated on a show called Broken Open at 1078 Gallery in Chico, California, Jan 17th – Feb 10th, 2019. This was a collaboration with poet Elise Ficarra and sculptor / ceramicist Cameron Crawford. Read Jason Cassidy’s review in the Chico News and Review here.
For the Body, By the Body – Young Sun Lee:
In October of 2018, my collaborator, choreographer Young Sun Lee, had a major installation / exhibition at the Cheonan Arts Center in Seoul, Korea (17-28 Oct 2018) called Drawing for the Body, By the Body in which she performed a number of works with my music, in galleries filled with her drawings. Her pieces Dance Drawings for Snail IV and Dance Drawing for Black Drawing use music from works such as Vagues Fenetres and Isle Remix. The exhibition also featured a screening of her collaborative animation film soul / soul with experimental animator and documentary film maker Kyja Kristjansson-Nelson. Below is Young Sun Lee performing with some of her drawings and stills from soul / soul. For more photos of the exhibit go here.
San Francisco Music Day with Myra Melford and Ian Winters:
September 2018: I was thrilled to be a part of San Francisco Music Day, albeit in absentia. Myra Melford (piano), Ian Winters (video) and I did another version of our Dissonant Futures project in the Taube Atrium Theater at the War Memorial Veteran’s Building at 5:30pm on Sunday 30th September. For this version Ian and I improvised with sound and image materials gathered from Myra’s amazing inside the piano world (see photo above!) over the past few years, while Myra played the piano keyboard with her usual astonishing virtuosity and power. My electronic improvisations were made using samples recorded with Myra and processed through improvisation patches I’ve designed in Max MSP. Since I couldn’t be there, my improvisations were done in advance and sent ahead. Pre-improvisation!
Here’s a snippet of part of the electronic sound world. This excerpt is created from samples of Myra playing a piano prepared with chopsticks …..
I very much enjoyed residencies, during 2018, at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), with choreographer Mary Armentrout and media artist Ian Winters, creating both scored music and electronic sound for Listening Creates an Opening for Mary Armentrout Dance Theater.
Listening Creates an Opening was commissioned by EMPAC and supported by their Residencies and Commissions program. The work was premiered 12th – 15th September 2018. The work, which is written, devised and directed by Mary Armentrout, takes notions of embodied listening as a lens through which to explore site, history and the artist’s relationship to social engagement. We worked with Darcy Dunn and Allison Easter (singers) and Patrick Belaga (cellist/improvisor) on this multi-site, site-specific work, which explores various localities at EMPAC and beyond.
Within the work I wrote settings, and fragments of settings, scored for different combinations of two singers and cello, for two poems by Emily Dickinson, which Mary cut up and wove around her text. I also scored two videos (one each for the first and last scenes), creating soundscapes from sounds recorded with cellist Patrick Belaga. Additionally I made a 16 channel sound score for a scene in the EMPAC theater, using many sounds which I had recorded in and around EMPAC and the city of Troy. The theater scene included a ‘cloud’ sculpture made out of LEDs, created by Ian Winters, which used, as a source for changing light, over a year’s worth of data collected from light and colour sensors set in the roof of the EMPAC building. The eight channel sound for this section combined sonic references to both sites visited in the show and to the music within it, creating an immersive sonic environment which the audience experiences by lying down under the cloud. Documentation for the piece will soon be available.
In August 2018, Ian Winters and I were invited to the Djerassi Resident Artist Program where we re-mounted a version of our installation Summer, Winter, Spring.
Building the screen (Ian Winters and Weidong Yang):
Adjusting sound levels:
Some images from the show:
Taking a bow:
Lingering spectator staying for a second run….
Summer, Winter, Spring, is a collaborative work lead by media artist Ian Winters with choreographers Mary Armentrout, Daiane Lopes da Silva and paige starling sorvillo. I collaborated with Heather Frasch on the first work in progress version of the piece in January 2017, and her presence remains in the sound world of later versions, particularly in the bicycle wheel sounds! This piece premiered as an installation on 13th January 2018, performances were 26th & 27th January 7:30pm, at the Minnesota Street Project, 1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco 94107. See the trailer here.
Earlier in 2018:
My 1990s collaborative works with film maker Suse Bohse (such as Those Roads) were part of an inspirational project at Central St Martin’s School of Art, in the exhibition Temporalities, which ran at the Lethaby Gallery in February 2018. This exhibit consisted in a set of commissions from current students responding to historical student work from this iconic art school.